Welcome to part three of our series on ketosis!

In the first two parts we touched on the benefits of ketosis and how it works in your body. Now, let’s get into a step-by-step guide to eating keto. This article covers four simple steps:

  • Learn your macros
  • Start eating keto (with a sample menu)
  • Stay strong for two weeks (and what to do if you’re having a hard time sticking to keto)
  • Add-ons and alternatives (and how to tell if you should change your diet)

Let’s get to it!

 

Step 1: Learn your macros

A ketogenic diet is built around your macronutrient ratio – the balance of fat, protein, and carbs you eat. The general guidelines are:

  • 60-80% of calories from fat
  • 15-30% of calories from protein
  • 5-10% of calories from carbs

There’s wiggle room here. You may be able to stay in keto with 10-15% carbs; your friend may need to stay at 5%. Everyone’s a little different. A good place to start is down the middle:

Assuming you eat 2,000 calories a day, that would be:

  • 50g of carbs
  • 100g of protein
  • 155g of fat

Here’s a good calculator for figuring out your macros. Once you have your numbers, you’re ready to begin your keto journey.

One thing to keep in mind: you want a minimum of 0.5 grams of protein per pound that you weigh (0.5g/lb protein), to prevent muscle loss [1]. A 200-lb person would want 100 grams of protein a day, for example. If you’re working out and want to put on muscle, go for closer to 0.8g/lb bodyweight (e.g. 160 grams for a 200-lb person) [2]. You can tweak your macros accordingly. Stick to around 0.8g/lb – higher protein than that may take you out of keto.

 

Step 2: Start eating keto

Break out your favorite high-fat, low-carb foods. You still want to follow principles of good nutrition: mostly whole foods, plenty of veggies, healthy fats, and protein from well-raised or wild-caught animals. But you have a lot of tasty options on the menu:

Healthy fats (5-8 servings a day)

  • Eggs
  • Avocado
  • Grass-fed butter and cheese (Kerrygold is a great brand)
  • Coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut cream
  • Nuts/nut oils (especially macadamia)
  • Olives/olive oil
  • Fatty fish (sardines, anchovies, salmon, tuna

Quality protein (2-4 servings a day)

  • Wild-caught fish
  • Grass-fed red meat (beef, lamb)
  • Protein powders (whey, collagen, vegan proteins)
  • Free-range chicken
  • Duck
  • Pasture-raised bacon/pork

Low-carb veggies (6-10 servings a day)

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Zucchini
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Avocado
  • Chard
  • Bell pepper
  • Mushrooms
  • Kale (be aware, though: kale has more carbs than you’d think)
  • Brussels sprouts (same as above – these have a few grams of carbs in a serving)
  • Cucumber
  • Celery
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce

Pick and choose your favorite ingredients and turn them into a meal. Generally, a balanced keto meal has a quality protein and a heaping side of veggies, all covered in a fat. Here’s what a sample day eating keto looks like:

Breakfast

  • Two eggs, cooked in butter
  • Two slices of quality bacon
  • Half an avocado

Lunch

  • Grass-fed steak topped with herb butter (butter, minced garlic, chopped parsley)
  • Roasted broccoli and cauliflower (Toss in olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, spread on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 for ~25 minutes)

Dinner

  • Seared sockeye salmon with hollandaise (Add egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, and a pinch of cayenne to a blender, blend, and slowly add melted butter until sauce thickens)
  • Side salad (romaine, arugula, tomato, avocado, cucumber, hard-boiled egg) with Dijon-balsamic dressing (Dijon mustard, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar whisked together)

Not too shabby, right? You can eat well on a ketogenic diet.

You may want to track your macros for the first couple weeks. Two solid apps for tracking are MyKeto and MyFitnessPal. Logging your food can be a pain, but it’s easy to accidentally have more carbs than you think you’re eating, especially when you’re starting out.

Carbs are the most important thing to keep an eye on. Keto curbs appetite pretty strongly, so you may find you get full before you reach your projected amount of fat and protein. That’s fine – no need to stuff yourself just to reach your percentages. But you do want to limit carbs quite carefully. Too many will take you out of keto (we’ll talk about how you can tell if you’re in keto in a minute).

And if that happens, it’s not the end of the world. You may have to go over your limit a few times before you figure out how many carbs you can eat. Be patient with yourself. This isn’t a prescription – it’s a process of figuring out what works for your body.

 

Step 3: Stay strong for two weeks (we can help)

If you’ve been eating carbs, your body is used to burning them for energy. When you cut carbs off, your metabolism starts to shift over to using fat.

Using fat for fuel has some pretty cool benefits…once you switch over. But the process of transitioning from carbs to fat can be rough for some people. You have to burn through all your glycogen (carb) stores before your body turns to fat.

During that transition – the first 5-10 days of eating keto, for most people – you may get the “keto flu.” It happens when your cells run out of carbs to use, but aren’t yet comfortable burning fat. Your energy production dips, which can lead to flu-like symptoms:

  • Tiredness
  • Brain fog
  • Muscle aches
  • Carb cravings
  • Hunger
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping

Stick it out for the first couple weeks! These should all pass. Here are a few tools to help you:

  • Eat a lot. Now is not the time to count calories or stay in a calorie deficit. If you want to stay in a calorie deficit to lose weight faster, start once you’ve transitioned to ketosis. But for the first couple weeks, eat lots of satisfying fat when you’re hungry. Stay strong! The carb cravings should go away after you switch over. In this stage, medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil can be especially helpful. You can find it in the supplements section of most health food stores.
  • Stay hydrated. Carbs require water for storage. Fat does not. So as you get rid of your carb stores, you’ll start to lose a lot of water weight. You may look like you’ve lost 5-7 pounds your first week of keto. A lot of that is water you’re losing. Be sure to stay hydrated to compensate.
  • Double down on sodium. Your kidneys will also start to expel sodium when you’re on keto. Low electrolytes are often the culprit behind headaches when you’re transitioning. The good news is that you can compensate by salting your food with abandon. Add as much salt as you please to your food, and for the first couple weeks, Try dissolving a half teaspoon of sea salt in water in the morning.
  • Take magnesium and potassium for muscle aches. You also lose the electrolytes magnesium and potassium when you drop all that water weight. If you find your muscles are cramping, it’s likely an electrolyte imbalance. Try taking magnesium and potassium supplements. Shoot for 200-400 mg of magnesium and ~4700 mg of potassium. Note: the linked potassium supplement is a salt substitute. It’s a great cheap way to get potassium. Dissolve half a teaspoon in water if you get muscle cramps.
  • Try melatonin for sleep issues. When you’re switching over, your body isn’t happy with you. It doesn’t recognize fat as a viable fuel source yet, and it can get a little pushy about asking for more carbs. You may find you wake up in the middle of the night during the last 2-3 nights of your transition. That’s your brain triggering cortisol release to wake you up. Basically, it’s shouting, “You’re starving! Stop sleeping and find carbs!” Don’t give in. This is your body’s last-ditch effort to go back to carbs before it switches over to fat. Try taking melatonin to fall back asleep. Most melatonin supplements have an unnecessarily large dose – you only need 0.3 mg to have an effect. Here’s a good source with the right dose. P.S. don’t take melatonin every night for more than a month. Taking it long-term can interfere with your body’s natural production. 
  • Work out hard to speed up the transition. If you want to shorten your transition, try an intense workout like CrossFit or HIIT. It’ll empty your glycogen stores faster. Be warned that these workouts may be extra challenging. Your muscles will be looking for fuel and coming up empty. One hard workout should be enough to empty your glycogen. Rest after that until you start feeling good again.

There you go. You’re prepared to weather the keto transition. Stick with it.

 

Bonus section: how to tell when you’re in ketosis

After a while, you’ll be able to feel whether or not you’re in ketosis. Once you transition, you can expect your keto flu symptoms to go away, replaced with stable energy and mental clarity. But if you want to be absolutely sure and track your progress along the way, you can measure your ketones.

To be clear, you don’t have to do any of these. If you’re analytical and you like data, measuring ketones can be a fun. But if sampling your blood or urine sounds too hardcore, just look for signs that you’re in ketosis – mental clarity, fat loss, decreased inflammation, more energy, no more keto flu, and so on.

If you’re more hardcore, here are three options for measuring ketones:

  • Pee on sticks. Ketones come out in your urine, so you can measure ketosis using test strips like these. Your local pharmacy will probably sell them too. This isn’t terribly accurate, but it’s by far the cheapest option, and it will generally tell you whether or not you’re in ketosis. Check the label – you want the stick to turn a color that correlates with higher ketones.
  • Prick your finger. A blood ketone meter is the most accurate and reliable way to measure ketosis. A reading of 0.7 or higher is considered ketosis. Test strips get expensive after a while, so keep that in mind when you test. 1-5 mmol is a good range to be in.
  • Breathe. You can also measure ketones in your breath. This is the most pricey option, and the newest. It’s more indirect than blood or urine, so it’s not always accurate, but it’s a decent choice if you don’t like needles.

Again, these can be helpful when you’re starting out, but they definitely aren’t necessary, and they become less useful once you get a feel for eating keto.

 

Step 4: Add-ons and alternatives (and how to tell if you should change your diet)

Once you’ve done keto for a month or so your body will be totally used to burning fat. At this point, you can start adding other things to your diet for even more benefits.

Alternatively, if you’re still feeling awful after a month, keto may not be for you. Here are a few tweaks that may work better with your biology.

Intermittent fasting

Appetite suppression is one of the nice parts of keto. It can be a lot easier to go long periods without eating when you’re running on fat. The theory is that you’re used to burning fat, so when you run out of food, it’s quite comfortable to switch to burning your stored body fat.

This is where intermittent fasting comes in. You can try going 12-24 hours (or longer) without eating. Fasting carries a few benefits, including decreased inflammation, increased mental clarity, and spikes in growth hormone that helps with muscle building and fat loss. If you’re interested, check out our complete guide to fasting.

Carb cycling/refeeding

Some people do better when they don’t go without carbs for long stretches. If you struggle with normal keto, try having a carb refeed day once a month. Chow down on healthy carb sources like sweet potato, squash, pumpkin, and rice. You’ll refill your glycogen stores, which can work well if you feel crappy on full keto. Note that you’ll probably put on a few pounds during your refeed day. Don’t worry – it’s just water weight. It’ll come right back off over the next few low-carb days.

Targeted ketogenic diet – carbs before you work out

If you’re working out a lot, consider having some carbs pre-workout. A few grams of carbs (a bit of butternut squash or half a sweet potato, for example) before you exercise will bring your insulin level up a bit, which prevents muscle breakdown and may allow you to recruit more muscle fibers, helping you build more muscle [3].

Some people find they can eat more carbs when they exercise and it won’t pull them out of ketosis. It’s helpful to track your ketones for this one to make sure you’re staying in keto, or at least that you’re back in keto the next morning.

 

Final thoughts

If this article has piqued your interest, try giving a ketogenic diet a shot. It can be great for some people. And if you want to know more, take a look at the first two articles in this series:

Do you have keto stories? Questions? Comments? Criticisms? Leave it all in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Welcome to part two of our series on ketosis!

In the first part, we touched on the basics of a ketogenic diet, as well as its potential pros and cons. Now, we want to go a little deeper into what exactly happens in your body when you’re in ketosis.

Keto can be a great way to eat, and it’s getting more and more popular. But with that excitement can come misinformation. We hope this article helps to explain how your body actually uses fat for fuel and how ketosis works on a nitty-gritty level. We also hope it helps you navigate the many claims and articles about keto.

By the end of this article, you’ll learn:

  • When and how your body gets into ketosis
  • Why carbs take you out of keto
  • How your cells turn fat into energy (and where it happens)
  • How protein affects keto
  • How you can mimic ketosis without carb restriction

 

How does your body get into ketosis?

Ketosis is when your body breaks down fat into energy. As long as you have some fat in your diet, ketosis is going on all the time – you’re doing it right now. But if you’re eating carbs, ketosis is pretty minor.

Nutritional ketosis, on the other hand, is when your body stops using carbs as its main source of energy and switches to burning mostly fat for fuel. That’s the goal of a ketogenic diet, because that’s when you start getting the benefits.

You need two things to shift over to nutritional ketosis:

    1. Stable, low blood sugar. When you have sugar in your blood (usually after you eat carbs), your body releases insulin. Insulin signals for your cells to start using the sugar in your bloodstream as fuel. It also shuts off fat burning so you can focus on using the sugar first. In other words, insulin turns off ketosis. To get in (and stay in) keto, it’s key to keep your blood sugar low so you don’t produce insulin.
    2. Empty glycogen stores. Your body also stores carbs as glycogen in your muscles and liver. You keep about 400 grams of glycogen squirreled away for times when you need quick energy. Fasting and intense physical activity, for example, use up your glycogen stores.

These two points are why cutting carbs is the central part of a ketogenic diet. When you stop eating carbs:

  • Your blood sugar and insulin stay low.
  • Your glycogen stores start emptying, with no carbs to fill them back up.

It takes about 48 hours on a very-low-carb diet to deplete your glycogen stores [1]. At that point, your body starts eyeing fat as a way to make energy, and thinking it looks pretty good. You’ve begun the transition to ketosis.

How (and where) you turn fat into fuel

Alright. You’ve emptied your glycogen stores and you’re not giving your body any more carbs. It’s looking for sugar and coming up empty. This is when you start burning fat. Your body begins pulling fat from one of two places:

  • If you have food in your system, you’ll break down the fat you ate.
  • If you don’t have food in your system (say, when you’re sleeping, fasting, or between meals), you’ll use your body fat.

Whether you’re using dietary fat or body fat, the destination is the same: you shuttle fats through your bloodstream and into your liver.

More specifically, you send fats to the mitochondria in your liver cells.

Mitochondria are the power plants of your body – they produce the energy that fuels everything you do. Nearly every cell in your body contains mitochondria. The mitochondria in your liver cells are where the ketogenic magic happens.

There’s a little biochemistry coming here. If you’re not into the details, the big picture is that your liver mitochondria turn fat into ketone bodies, which distribute through your blood for use as energy. If you want a little more detail, here it is:

  • When fats reach your liver, your mitochondria break them down through a process called beta-oxidation.
  • Fat molecules have long tails; during beta-oxidation, your mitochondria chew up the fat molecule’s tail, piece-by-piece, and spit out acetyl-CoA (we won’t get into the step-by-step biochemistry of beta-oxidation in this article. If you want that, you can find it here).
  • Your mitochondria send acetyl-CoA through the Krebs cycle. You may remember the Krebs cycle from a biology class – it’s how your mitochondria turn fats and sugars into ATP, your body’s form of energy.

Let’s summarize that with a simple and poorly aligned diagram. Pardon the crooked arrows.

Acetyl-CoA depends on another compound called oxaloacetate to turn into ATP. If you’re eating carbs, you’ll have a balance of oxaloacetate and acetyl-CoA (illustrated by the scales, below), and your liver mitochondria can turn acetyl-CoA directly into energy.

That’s normally how you turn fat into energy. When you aren’t eating carbs, though, there’s one more step to the process.

 

Ketone bodies: your main fuel source on a ketogenic diet

Usually, you don’t turn a whole lot of fat into energy, because your mitochondria are mostly focused on burning sugar.

In ketosis, however, you begin shuttling lots of fat into your liver. Your mitochondria burn through it via the process above, which gives them tons of acetyl-CoA.

But without carbs, your liver mitochondria start running out of oxaloacetate. All of a sudden they have lots of extra acetyl-CoA, with no oxaloacetate to help turn it into energy. So your liver mitochondria turn the extra acetyl-CoA into ketone bodies, portable little packages of fuel that they can send to your bloodstream and ship out to other parts of your body. Here are a couple more scales, to illustrate:

On a ketogenic diet, these ketone bodies are your main source of energy. They’re constantly circulating through your blood, waiting for energy-hungry tissues to grab them up. When a cell needs fuel, it pulls ketone bodies from your blood, turns them back into acetyl-CoA, and sends them through the Krebs cycle, where they come out as ATP (energy). Your brain is especially fond of ketones, which may be why many people report increased mental clarity on a keto diet.

To summarize:

  • Without carbs, you send extra fat to your liver mitochondria
  • Your liver mitochondria turn that fat into acetyl-CoA
  • You run low on oxaloacetate without carbs. Without oxaloacetate, you can’t turn all the extra acetyl-CoA into energy
  • Instead, your liver mitochondria convert acetyl-CoA into little bundles of fuel called ketones
  • Lots of ketones leave your liver, enter your bloodstream, and zoom throughout your body, ready to be used for energy. Here’s another diagram. The ketones are the green dots:

At this point, you’re using mostly fat for fuel. Your tissues are gobbling up ketones for energy. You’ve fully transitioned into a ketogenic state.

 

How protein affects ketosis

We’ve covered how carbs and fats affect ketosis. But what about protein?

You may have heard that you have to keep protein low on a ketogenic diet, because excessive protein will turn into sugar (a process called gluconeogenesis) and pull you out of ketosis.

This is half true. When you’re eating very low-carb, your body will indeed turn protein into glucose. But it’s expensive to turn protein into sugar. Gluconeogenesis is very inefficient. It uses up a lot of energy and produces a tiny amount of glucose. Your body doesn’t like doing it, and will only make enough glucose from protein to fulfill your basic needs. The rest of the protein it uses elsewhere.

That means you can eat plenty of protein without it turning into sugar. In this study, for example, fasted participants ate 132 grams of protein in one sitting (that’s about a pound and a third of steak). Their blood sugar hardly changed.

The “too much protein = no ketosis” argument isn’t entirely wrong, though. One byproduct of protein metabolism is ammonia, which is toxic (it’s the same stuff in household cleaners). Usually, your liver converts ammonia to urea, which comes out harmlessly in your urine. But if you eat more than about 230 grams of protein a day, your liver gets overwhelmed [2]. At that point, you’ll turn extra protein into glucose, to avoid ammonia poisoning.

Here’s the thing, though: 230 grams of protein is the equivalent of about ten burgers a day. And there are very few compelling reasons to eat ten burgers a day. Most people can maintain or build muscle with far less [3].

One last thought: breaking down protein does create a small amount of oxaloacetate. If you recall from earlier, oxaloacetate has to be low for you to get into ketosis:

So protein can mildly suppress ketosis by increasing oxaloacetate.

Let’s summarize:

  • Gluconeogenesis (protein turning into sugar) doesn’t seem to be a big concern for keto
  • If you eat 230+ grams of protein a day, you may convert protein to sugar to prevent ammonia poisoning…but that’s way more protein than most of us would ever need
  • Protein can suppress ketosis by increasing oxaloacetate. It’s generally a mild effect, though.

We’ll get into exactly how much protein to eat in our next article, which will outline a sample month on a keto diet. In the meantime, just know that protein probably won’t pull you out of ketosis, unless you’re intentionally eating a lot of it.

You can mimic ketosis without carb restriction

There is a way to mimic ketosis without restricting your carbs. The key lies in a special class of fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). They work a little differently than other fats do.

Let’s say you eat a mashed potato drizzled with olive oil. The sugars from the potato will trigger insulin release while the fat from the olive oil is still circulating through your bloodstream. That insulin release triggers fat storage – your cells will pull the fat from the olive oil out of your bloodstream and hold onto it while you burn through the potato. If you need more energy, you’ll start in on the fat from the olive oil. If you don’t need more energy, you’ll store the olive oil as body fat.

But if you were to drizzle that mashed potato with MCT oil, two things would change:

  1. The MCTs metabolize more quickly than other fats
  2. They don’t get stored as fat, even in the presence of insulin

MCTs sneak into your portal vein, the pathway that carbs use to get to your liver. That means MCTs metabolize more quickly than other fats. It also means MCTs escape the fat-storing effects of insulin, because they don’t make it into the general circulation of your blood. MCTs go straight to your liver and turn into ketones, even if there are carbs hanging around. You’d burn both the potato and the MCT oil at the same time. For that reason, MCTs never have a chance to store as body fat. In fact, they may modestly increase the number of calories you burn in a day and also make you feel less hungry, much like a full-on ketogenic diet can (although the changes are smaller with MCT oil) [4].

So MCT oil can give you some of the benefits of circulating ketones, even if you don’t cut out all your carbs.

 

Final thoughts

A ketogenic diet causes a few pretty major changes to your metabolism, and eating keto may offer a few unique benefits. You can read about the upsides and downsides to keto in our first article in this series. Our next one lays out a full guide to eating keto for your first month. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and coconut oil often get used interchangeably in the nutrition world. They’re both types of oil that come from coconuts, but MCTs are a purified, concentrated type of coconut oil.

That’s not to say one is better than the other. Just the opposite, in fact. Both coconut oil and MCT oil offer powerful health benefits. Your body just uses them in different ways. Which one is best for you depends on your goals (spoiler alert: we’re fans of using both).

So what exactly do MCTs do, and how are they different from coconut oil? And what are the pros and cons of each? Read on to find out.

MCTs: quick energy without fat storage

MCTs are a special class of fat that comes from coconut oil, palm oil, and goat’s milk. There are three main types of MCT, categorized by the number of carbons they contain. From shortest (8 carbons) to longest (12 carbons), they are:

  • C8 (caprylic acid, ~7% of coconut oil)
  • C10 (capric acid, ~8% of coconut oil)
  • C12 (lauric acid, ~48% of coconut oil)

What sets C8 and C10 MCTs apart is the way your body uses them. Most fats go through your stomach, break down in your small intestine, go through your lymphatic system, absorb into your bloodstream, and get into your cells for energy (you can find a more in-depth look at fat metabolism in this blog post).

C8 and C10 are different. They skip digestion and go straight to your liver through your portal vein. Your liver breaks them down into ketones (little bundles of energy) and sends them right out into your blood for delivery to energy-hungry cells. That quick conversion to ketones can make C8 and C10 MCTs valuable when you want a burst of energy, without the crash many people get from sugar or stimulants.

If your insulin spikes, most fats and carbohydrates in your bloodstream will be stored as body fat (say, because you ate a carb-heavy meal alongside the fat). C8 and C10 MCTs don’t store as fat – the ketones will just keep circulating, and if you don’t use them, you’ll pee them out.

You may notice that C12 wasn’t included in the above explanation. That’s because while C12 is technically categorized as an MCT, it behaves in your body like more typical fats. That’s not a bad thing – in fact, you’ll learn about how unusually valuable C12 is in a minute. But for all intents and purposes, C12 is not an MCT.

Don’t be fooled by companies that claim their coconut oil is 60% MCTs; the vast majority of that is C12. If you want the benefits listed below, buy pure MCT oil with C8 and C10.

C8 and C10 MCTs have a few particularly valuable uses.

MCT Pros:

  • Fat loss. MCTs are thermogenic – you use a lot of energy processing them, which means they can make you burn more calories. Several studies have found that swapping more typical dietary fats (think olive oil, butter, etc.) with MCTs increased the calories people burned [1,2], and eating MCTs daily long-term led to gradual fat loss [3].
  • Hunger suppression. Several studies have found that MCTs lead people to feel more full on fewer calories [4,5,6]. This could be because your liver turns MCTs into ketones. Ketones suppress ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry [7], and increase cholecystokinin, a hormone that makes you feel full [8]. You can get into ketosis through diet, but MCTs offer a quick spike of ketones that seem to mimic ketosis long enough to suppress your appetite.
  • Quick energy. MCTs are also a great way to get a quick burst of energy without the crash that comes from sugar or stimulants. Try taking MCTs before a workout or during a mid-afternoon slump. They’re also useful if you’re just starting a keto diet and you’re struggling with the transition from burning fat to burning carbs.

MCT Cons:

  • Digestive issues. Too much MCT oil causes urgent digestive distress. Don’t push your limits with this stuff. If you’ve never had MCT oil before (or it’s been a while), start with about a teaspoon at a time. Give your body a week or so to adjust, then you can begin bumping up to a tablespoon, and then two. That’s probably a good place to stop. MCT-related digestive issues are very unpleasant.

Basically, MCTs are great for targeted use. If you want some quick energy before a workout or are looking for a little edge with fat burning, MCTs can be an excellent tool. But MCTs can cause digestive distress in large amounts, so you’re better off treating MCT oil as a supplement, not a main fat in your diet.

Now let’s talk about coconut oil.

 

Coconut oil: Steady energy and immune system support

Coconut oil has a range of interesting fatty acids in it. It has some C8 and C10 MCTs (~10%), but the star of the show with coconut oil is C12 (lauric acid).

As we mentioned above, lauric acid is categorized as an MCT, but it doesn’t behave like one. Lauric acid, like longer-chain fats, goes through your small intestine and relies on bile for metabolism, so it won’t spike ketone levels the way other MCTs will [9].

That said, lauric acid imparts some other pretty cool benefits, as does coconut oil in general.

Coconut oil pros:

  • Antiviral, antifungal, anti-everything-else. Lauric acid makes up about 50% of coconut oil. When lauric acid reaches your small intestine, you convert it to monolaurin, a powerful antimicrobial compound. Monolaurin kills off pathogenic bacteria, fungi, yeasts, viruses – everything from E. coli [10] to Candida [11] to herpes [12] to swine flu [13]. A lot of health bloggers promote coconut oil for things like gut health because it’s so powerful at killing pathogens. We didn’t find any compelling studies on the topic, but considering monolaurin’s impressive antimicrobial resume, your immune system probably won’t be too upset if you eat coconut oil regularly.
  • Skin health. Monolaurin performed on par with antibiotics (and, in fact, killed antibiotic-resistant Staph infections) when applied to skin infections [14]. It also didn’t lead to drug resistance the way antibiotics do. Does this mean you should ignore your doctor and start treating serious ailments with coconut oil? No. Definitely don’t do that. But coconut oil could be good for skin care, both in terms of moisturizing and keeping bacteria at bay. Fair warning: coconut oil clogs pores for some people [15]. 
  • Stable energy. Coconut oil is full of of saturated fat. We’ve written about saturated fat before. Basically, we’re not convinced it’s good or bad – it’s just a solid source of energy that won’t spike your insulin or blood sugar. If you’re on a high-fat, low-carb diet, coconut oil is a great healthy fat source.
  • Good for cooking. Coconut oil’s saturated fat content also means it withstands high heat without breaking down. It’s great for sauteing, pan-frying, baking, and pretty much any other higher-heat cooking method. If you don’t like the coconut taste, go for refined coconut oil.

Coconut oil cons:

  • Misleading MCT advertising. A lot of coconut oil companies put on their label that coconut oil is 60% MCTs. That’s technically true, but it’s misleading. Most of that is lauric acid, so you aren’t getting the ketone-producing benefits of MCT oil. Of course, now that you know this, you can just take MCT oil for your ketone needs, so this isn’t really a con anymore. Tell your friends.
  • Suppresses hunger less than pure MCTs. Coconut oil isn’t as satiating as MCT oil [16]. If you’re looking for hunger suppression (maybe because you’re trying to lose a few pounds), go for the MCT oil, or combine the two to get the best of both worlds.

Coconut oil is an excellent source of energy with some impressive antimicrobial properties. It’s no better or worse than MCT oil; it’s just different. Both have their place in a healthy diet, and both are valuable tools in eating well.

Do you use MCT oil? Big fan of coconut oil? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading and have a great week!

 

After months of gratifying testing, tasting, and formulating, we’re beyond excited to announce Ample K, the first all-in-one keto meal that gets its nutrition from quality real foods.

Ketogenic diets can be a stellar way to eat, especially if you’re looking to lose a few pounds or increase your mental clarity. But keto also comes with its sticking points: lots of food prep, counting your macros, getting enough fiber, staying sane through the transition from burning carbs to burning fat, and a couple other unique challenges.

Those challenges were top-of-mind as we designed Ample K. It’s tailor-made to address the difficulties of ketogenic eating without sacrificing nutrition or food quality. We’re hoping to raise the bar for ketogenic food products. Here’s how.

  1. Convenience
  2. Healthy fat
  3. Fiber
  4. Custom micronutrients
  5. MCTs
  6. Taste

 

1) Convenience

Keto can be more cumbersome than a lot of other diets. There are plenty of great portable keto snacks, but if you want a full nutritious keto meal, you usually have to make it yourself, and it often doesn’t transport well.

Ample K skirts that problem. It’s fully powdered, so you don’t need to carry around extra oils or fats in your bag. That means no awkward glass containers, no risk of leaking coconut oil or ghee all over your laptop, and no shaker bottle that gets disgusting when you forget to wash it out.

And Ample K truly is a meal. It’s designed to fill you up for 4-6 hours and be as satisfying as eating a complete lunch – without the tupperware or reheating. Plus you don’t have to worry about your cauliflower rice making the office smell weird. That’s a win in our book.

 

2) Healthy fat

Fat is the heart of the ketogenic diet, and when you’re getting 70% of your calories from fat, it’s all the more important to choose the healthiest fats around.

You won’t find any canola or soybean oil here. We made Ample K with an optimal balance of cold-processed monounsaturated, saturated, and omega-3 fats. Ample K has very few inflammatory omega-6 fats and, of course, no artificial trans fats. We source all our fat from:

  • Macadamia nut oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Chia seed oil
  • Sunflower lecithin

The balance of fat in Ample K offers a stable source of energy, without promoting inflammation. Check out this article if you want an in-depth explanation of why we chose each of the above fats. They have some pretty cool benefits.

 

3) Plenty of fiber

It can be tough to come by fiber on very-low-carb diets like keto. Fat sources generally don’t contain any fiber, and low fiber is one of the biggest issues on keto diets. Fiber does a lot for you:

  • Fiber slows down digestion so you absorb nutrients more completely [1].
  • It also increases satiety. Fiber is a big reason you feel full after a balanced meal [2].
  • Eating fiber can lead to meaningful fat loss over time [3].  
  • Fiber feeds good gut bacteria and can curb inflammation in your GI tract, leading to better digestive health [4,5].

We made sure Ample K has plenty of fiber in each bottle, to help fix the problem a lot of keto dieters face. All that fiber makes Ample extra satiating, too.

 

4) Custom micronutrients

Your micronutrient needs change when you’re eating keto, and we’ve customized Ample K to fit those needs.

When you’re running on carbs, your body uses water to store them as energy. Each gram of carbs you store gets packaged with 3-4 grams of water. In keto, this system changes:

  • Fat doesn’t require water for energy storage, which means you start getting rid of water as you transition to burning fat.
  • You lose a lot of sodium in that water.
  • As sodium drops, your cells begin to get rid of potassium as well, to maintain the proper sodium/potassium balance that allows them to function [6].
  • On top of that, your kidneys excrete a lot of ketones during your first couple weeks transitioning into keto, because your cells doesn’t know how to use the ketones for energy yet. Ketones pull even more sodium and potassium with them [7].

Low sodium and potassium can lead to dehydration, headaches, fatigue, and muscle cramps – all the symptoms of the “keto flu” a lot of people get when they first try eating keto.

Basically, you need more sodium and potassium on keto. We added meaningful doses of both, to help combat keto flu and keep you hydrated as you burn fat.

 

5) Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)

MCTs are an unusual class of fat. They’re naturally occurring fats in coconut oil that convert to ketones almost immediately after you eat them, even in the presence of carbs. MCTs can help smooth the transition into ketosis. They’re also great for quick energy with no crash, which makes them useful before a workout or in the mid-afternoon, if you start to fade at work.

On top of that, MCTs increase energy expenditure enough to lead to meaningful fat loss over time [9]. The circulating ketones from MCTs also regulate the hormones that make you hungry, keeping you satisfied for several hours [10,11].

Ample K has several grams of MCTs in each bottle. They’ll help you transition if you’re just getting into keto, and they’re great for a little extra energy if you’re already in keto.

 

6) Taste

And, of course, there’s taste. Food should be a pleasure to eat.

Taste is a particular challenge with keto products. Many products contain ketone salts, which are (you guessed it) very salty. Another option is adding ketones themselves, which taste almost exactly like gasoline. Then there are MCTs, which have a strange, oily mouthfeel. Artificial sweeteners, thickeners, and flavors are dubious ways to cover up the problem.

It took a lot of tweaking, but we’ve made Ample K absolutely delicious without any questionable additives. It has a rich, milkshake-like texture with hints of cinnamon and fresh cream.

We think Ample K is the best – and most complete – portable keto meal on the market. To be fair, we’re probably a little biased. And there’s no accounting for taste, so you’ll have to be the judge for yourself. Sign up here to be first to hear about Ample K. It’s coming soon.

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about drinking calories. Seems appropriate, considering Ample is a meal in a bottle.

Is drinking your food somehow inferior to eating it? It’s a good question, and, as with most things in nutrition, the answer is more nuanced than a simple “yes” or “no.” There are both downsides and upsides to drinking your food. Let’s take a look at them.

 

Too much, too fast: the downsides of drinking a meal

There are two main downsides to drinking your calories:

1) It’s easy to drink a lot (especially when it comes to sugar)

A lot of juice companies highlight the number of fruits and veggies that fit into their juices. “This bottle contains: two green apples, a banana, half a mango, a head of lettuce, a cucumber, and a whole zucchini.”

Very impressive. But compare drinking that juice to chopping up all those fruits and vegetables, putting them into a bowl, and chewing your way through them.

You’ll get a lot more full actually eating the food. That’s partly because fiber is so filling (juicing removes fiber and leaves the sugar). The other reason actually is that it takes you longer to eat, which gives your intestinal lining time to register the food you’re eating and release hormones like CCK and PYY, which make you feel full (for more detail, check out our guide to satisfying food).

Basically, drinking food allows you to consume a lot in a couple minutes (or seconds). Your body didn’t evolve to skip chewing and gulp down calories like that. It takes a few minutes for you to release hormones that make you feel satisfied. Chewing also releases those hormones – that’s why chewing your food makes you feel more full [1]. Drinking skips right by both of those systems, making it easy to overeat.

And on top of that, the most common drinks – juice, soda, smoothies, and even many protein shakes – have concentrated sugar, which will destabilize your insulin levels and send you on a sugar high, followed by a hunger-inducing crash a couple hours later.

2) You may not fully digest what you drink

Your body takes cues from your environment to prepare for incoming food – that’s why your mouth waters when you walk by a restaurant that’s frying bacon and roasting garlic. Maybe just reading that sentence got your mouth watering. The sight, smell, thought, and taste of food make you release stomach acid and digestion hormones, as well as enzymes in your saliva that break down what you eat as you chew (hence the mouthwatering sensation) [2]. This whole process is called the cephalic phase of digestion.

Drinking your food skips – or at least blunts – this part of digestion. A plate of sizzling steak with a side of grilled asparagus will trigger cephalic digestion a lot more than a protein shake with some greens powder added.

You’re sort of surprising your body when you drink food. It wasn’t expecting guests, so it hasn’t fully revved up its digestion. As a result, some of the food you drink may pass through your system undigested, or only partially digested.

We thought about all this when we made Ample, and countered it by making a lot of our nutrients particularly easy to digest. Our collagen protein, for example, is hydrolyzed – it’s already partially broken down, so enzymes in your small intestine don’t have to work as hard to extract nutrients from it. Similarly, we use lecithin to emulsify the fats in Ample – a job your liver and gallbladder would usually have to handle. We also added plenty of fiber, to make sure Ample is satisfying.

 

The pros of drinking a meal

On the other hand, there are some benefits to drinking calories.

1) Drinking is convenient

If you’re on the go and don’t have time for a sitdown meal, drinking becomes a positive, especially if you have something nutritious. A healthy drinkable meal is better than, say, drive-thru fast food. The four things to look for in a drinkable meal are fiber, protein, healthy fat, and low sugar (absolutely shameless plug: Ample has all four).

You may not be able to find fiber, protein, healthy fat, and low sugar all in one go when you’re traveling or busy, but there are plenty of readily available, drinkable options that at least partly fit the bill. Next time you’re in a bind on the road, turn to:

  • A protein shake without added sugar
  • A smoothie that’s mostly vegetables (a lot of smoothie places will take the fruit out of menu options. Many will also add protein if you ask)
  • Coffee with healthy fat (cream is the standard, or you could blend it with grass-fed butter, coconut oil, or coconut milk if you’re keto)
  • Greens powder mixed in water (have a jar of it in your car or bag)

Keep one of these handy for travel, or for busy days when you don’t have time to sit down to a meal.

2) Nutrient density in one meal

Drinking can also be useful for packing rare nutrients into a single meal. There’s major benefit to getting 6-8 servings of vegetables in a day, for example. But that’s a LOT of chewing to get through. It can be tough to heap four servings of greens on your plate for lunch and dinner. As a result, a lot of people don’t get enough fiber and are deficient in micronutrients like potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and E [3,4]. If you’re trying to build muscle, it can also be a slog to get enough protein to build lean body mass.

A well-designed shake can get you all your daily veggies, fiber, etc. in one go. Try blending the following:

  • Two lemons, skin removed
  • One lime, skin removed
  • Half an avocado
  • Two stalks celery
  • Three leaves kale
  • Handful of parsley
  • Handful of cilantro
  • One whole cucumber
  • Thumb-size piece of ginger
  • One banana (optional; omit if you eat low-carb)
  • Grass-fed whey protein, or a vegan protein blend (optional)
  • 8 ice cubes (blend them in at the end)

The result is a nutrient and fiber powerhouse with about 6 servings of veggies. This is where drinkable food becomes particularly valuable. Drink one of these shakes a day to take care of all your greens in one go.

 

Final thoughts

Drinking your calories isn’t inherently bad. As with all nutrition, it depends on what you’re putting in your body. Opt for nutrient-dense drinks with plenty of fiber, protein, and fat, and avoid drinks that concentrate sugar, even from natural fruits (your body doesn’t know the difference). Use drinkable meals to your advantage: fit solid nutrition into busy days, and pack in vegetables if you find you’re struggling to get enough.

Do you find benefit in drinking calories? Anything we missed? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading and have a great week.

No matter how you eat, cravings are bound to come up sooner or later. Low fat? Sometimes you want a slice of bacon. Low carb? There are days when you’d kill for a nice crusty piece of bread covered in butter. Low calorie or macro-based? At times, you’re probably sick of tallying up numbers in your head and just want to sit down to a nice big meal.

Or maybe you’re not that targeted with your diet and just generally try to eat well. Then, too, cravings can come up, and it’s helpful (we’d say essential) to give yourself permission to have a little fun now and then.

One popular way to deal with cravings is by having occasional “cheat days” – setting aside a meal or a full day to go wild and eat whatever you want.

We’re fans of straying from your diet now and then. The psychological relief can be good for you, especially if you’ve been, say, cutting calories to lose weight. We find it can actually make it easier to stick to healthy eating long-term.

But we’re not fans of cheat days. We prefer something similar, but intentionally different: Yes Days.

 

What is a Yes Day?

A Yes Day is when you say yes to whatever delicious food you want to eat. It’s a celebration of the decadence of food. Have you been dying for a pizza? Ice cream? Some nice crusty bread with butter? A PB&J? Bacon? Whatever it is, on a Yes Day you go for it. The only rule is that you eat all that tasty food from a place of enjoyment and check any guilt or disappointment in yourself at the door.

How is a Yes Day different from a cheat day?

If you’ve ever been on a diet, you’ve had a cheat day. Cheat days come in two forms: intentional and unintentional (AKA “falling off the wagon”). The latter usually leads to feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, self-hatred, and so on. And more often than not, on unintentional cheat days you end up eating way more than makes you feel satisfied because you’re dealing with all the unpleasant emotions that come with falling off the wagon.

An intentional cheat day is quite similar to a Yes Day. In fact, you could say Yes Days are the next generation of intentional cheat days. There are a few subtle (but important) differences:

  • A cheat day is usually intentional and somewhat planned. A Yes Day is always intentional, even if you weren’t planning on having it ahead of time.
  • The word “cheat” implies something shameful or dishonest. The word “yes” implies a celebration of food.
  • With a Yes Day, you’re eating from a place of joy – not a place of cheating or doing something wrong.
  • The real difference here is how you frame things in your mind. It’s positive psychology – saying yes to something and feeling good about it.

 

Why have a Yes Day?

The majority of diets fail, and the most common reason people stop eating healthily is that they feel like they can’t comply with the restrictions around food long-term.

This has more to do with psychology than physiology. There’s a big difference between “I’m never going to eat pizza again” and “I’m going to eat pizza on Saturday (and enjoy the hell out of it!).” Yes Days help you find a sense of balance that makes nutrition sustainable long-term. You don’t have to be absolute.

We don’t like the word “cheat.” It implies something shameful or dishonest. Food is one of the great pleasures in life, and eating to enjoy food is a cause for celebration. You’re replacing the guilt of cheating with the joy of saying yes to tasty food. And you’re appeasing the cheesecake-craving rebel in you so that you can continue to nourish yourself with healthy food most of the time, without feeling restricted.

 

Why restriction doesn’t work

Why not skip the Yes Day and just power through cravings, without going off your diet?

Because demanding that kind of perfection from yourself is stressful. If you’re pushing the pendulum way toward the “eat perfectly all the time” side, sooner or later it’s going to swing back toward the “eat all the cookies NOW” side. And it’ll do so with a vengeance. You’ll likely end up bingeing on unhealthy food and then feeling profound guilt or disappointment in yourself because of it.

Let go of the pressure of “no more pizza ever again.” Instead of feeling overwhelmed by your cravings and eating from a place of stress and unease, set aside the occasional time to eat what you want, and do it from a place of joy.

 

Isn’t this all just semantics?

Sort of. But how you think about things makes a big difference in how you experience them. It’s far too easy to view healthy eating as life-or-death. That brings so many negative emotions and such an air of seriousness with it that you can forget to enjoy your food.

Yes Days flip the script. They’re a celebration of the progress you’ve made on your journey to better health. They focus on the 90% of the time that you eat healthily, not the 10% of the time that you don’t. That makes a big difference in the way you approach food.

 

How often should you have a Yes Day?

The frequency of your Yes Days depends on your goals. Here are a few guidelines for Yes Days:

  • Go for the 80-20 rule, or somewhere around there. Aim to eat nutritious stuff about 80% of the time, and leave the other 20% for tasty diversions. The numbers are flexible – maybe you do 70/30, or maybe you’re hardcore and do 90/10. Wherever you land, that range seems to strike a nice sustainable balance between taking good care of your body and enjoying yourself.
  • Have Yes Days often enough that you don’t binge. If you find you’re bingeing on your Yes Days to the point where you aren’t enjoying yourself, try having smaller Yes Days more often. Yes Days should be enjoyable. They shouldn’t be junk food-eating marathons that leave you comatose on the couch, surrounded by pizza boxes and candy wrappers.
  • Try Yes Meals, too. You don’t have to set aside a whole day. Maybe just say yes to a meal now and then, or to the delicious-looking crusty bread before the meal, or whatever it is you enjoy. Smaller splurges can encourage a more balanced look at nutrition. Yes Days are a little more all-or-nothing, and that’s totally fine. They work well for a lot of people. But you may find you do better with the occasional meal instead of the occasional full day. Try both and see what works for you.
  • Keep your goals in mind. Are you trying to lose weight? Build muscle? Improve your digestion? Feel better? Tailor your Yes Days to your goals. If gluten makes you feel ill for days after you eat it, maybe enjoy a gluten-free pizza instead of a normal one. If you track your weight and find your Yes Days are keeping you from burning fat, scale them back a bit.

And above all, find a balance that lets you enjoy yourself. Yes Days are about building a sustainable path to better health. Change and growth take time. Be patient with yourself and learn to love the process. We find the occasional dessert helps.

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

You probably grew up hearing about the “calories in, calories out” model of nutrition. It’s been prevalent for the last hundred years or so, and it’s stuck around in part because it’s so enticingly simple: eat less than your body burns and you’ll lose weight. Eat excess food and you’ll gain weight.

Ultimately, this model is true. It’s basic physics, and it’s inescapable.

But calories are only a part of nutrition. There’s far more to eating well than the number of calories you consume – and furthermore, not all calories are created equal. So if you’re frustrated trying to lose weight (or you just dig nutrition), read on. We’re going to unpack why fueling your body and getting lean doesn’t just come down to calories. Let’s start by talking about how much calories really do matter, and why.

Calories DO matter…to a point

A calorie is a simple way to measure the amount of energy your body will produce from food. You figure out calories with a calorimeter, a machine that tracks how much heat (energy) food generates when you burn it inside the contraption. Throw a Twinkie in a calorimeter, burn it, and you’ll produce 135 units of heat. Thus, a Twinkie has 135 calories.

 

Bonus dietary advice: don’t eat these. 

Scientists exploding Twinkies is a little abstract, so let’s bring calories back to your body.

All the food you eat and digest goes through your liver. Your liver is like a control center for regulating energy [1]. If your liver has more energy than it needs, it will send signals for your body to release insulin and store the excess calories as fat. It doesn’t matter whether the extra energy is from a kale salad or a cinnamon roll.

And, on the flip side, you will pull fat from your stores and burn them for energy as long as your liver sees a negative energy balance.

That’s why it’s totally possible to lose weight eating junk food, as long as you come in under calories. There’s the science teacher who dropped 61 pounds in 6 months eating nothing but McDonalds. There’s the Australian writer who lost 11 pounds in a month on a candy-and-whiskey diet.

Basically, nutritional quality of your diet aside:

  • As long as you maintain a negative energy balance in your liver, you’ll burn body fat
  • As long as you maintain a positive energy balance in your liver, you’ll store body fat.

But just because you can lose weight eating junk food doesn’t mean you should, and just because you’re lean doesn’t mean you’re healthy. So before you start eating sweets and drinking your way thin, let’s talk about why food quality matters just as much, if not more, than food quantity.

Hormones and thermogenesis: why not all calories are created equal

Not all calories are created equal. Three hundred calories of carrots will impact your body very differently than, say, 300 calories of cocaine (interestingly, most of those calories are from carbs). And while you could, in theory, maintain energy balance with ~2000 calories a day of cocaine, it probably wouldn’t be too sustainable.

It’s a ridiculous example, but it proves a point: what you eat impacts your body well beyond your food’s calorie content. Food affects hormones, metabolism, rate of fat loss, hunger, brain function, inflammation, organ health, blood flow – virtually everything.

Let’s scale back to a more applicable and reasonable comparison. We’ll unpack what happens when you drink 400 calories of soda, versus when you drink 400 calories of Ample. This example will illustrate two important aspects of metabolism and fat loss: hormones and thermogenesis.

Your body on a bottle of soda

 

 

Let’s say you drink a large glass of soda. It’s 400 calories, one hundred percent of which come from simple sugar.

Thermogenic effects

The more you have to work to digest and distribute energy from food, the more calories you burn processing it. As a rule of thumb, foods that are harder to digest increase your metabolism. This is a process called thermogenesis.

Sugar requires almost no digestion because it’s already refined into basic units of energy. In other words, sugar is not very thermogenic. Eating it doesn’t drive you to burn more calories – you process it quickly and without effort.

Hormonal effects

Hormones are a huge player in metabolism and health. They regulate essential body processes like hunger, fat storage, mood, and energy.

The sugar in soda affects a handful of different hormones:

  • Insulin. Lots of sugar at once spikes your blood glucose to exceptional levels. You feel great and have lots of energy – the start of a sugar high. But high blood sugar is dangerous, so your body sends in the hormone insulin to clean it up. Insulin pulls sugar from your blood and stores it as body fat. In small doses, this isn’t a problem. But in response to such a high spike in blood sugar, your body will often release extra insulin, to clear the sugar as quickly as possible. The insulin ends up pulling more sugar from your blood than you want it to.
  • Ghrelin. When insulin pulls excess sugar from your blood, the sugar high turns into a crash – the low blood sugar makes you feel exhausted, and signals that you don’t have enough energy. Your body responds to low blood sugar by releasing ghrelin, another hormone. Ghrelin suppresses the extra insulin release… but ghrelin also makes you hungry (in fact, it’s nicknamed “the hunger hormone”) [2]. Now you’ve stored sugar as body fat and you’re exhausted and starving, so you start eating again. This probably sounds familiar if you’ve ever gone on the rollercoaster of a sugar high and crash.
  • Testosterone. Testosterone isn’t only a man thing. It’s just as important for women, and for both sexes it does a lot more than boost sex drive. Testosterone regulates all kinds of essential processes in your body, including mood, muscle preservation, and fat metabolism. And sugar has a pretty strong impact on your testosterone. A 2013 study found that drinking a sugary beverage dropped men’s testosterone levels by 25% within an hour, and it was still depressed two hours later, when the study concluded [3]. Low testosterone links to fat gain, decreased metabolism, muscle loss, and diabetes [4,5].

As you can see, drinking a soda has far-reaching effects that go beyond its calories. From a weight loss perspective (or even just a stable mood/energy perspective), it’s easy to see how a high-sugar diet could make it very difficult to stay on course when you’re dealing with the rollercoaster of blood sugar balance.

Now let’s look at a 400-calorie Ample.

Your body on a bottle of Ample

Ample is also 400 calories, but it has a balance of protein, fat, and fiber that has a very different effect on your body:

Thermogenic effects

  • Protein is the most thermogenic macronutrient [6]. The complicated structure of protein takes the body a lot of effort to digest. You spend energy (calories) breaking it down, which could help explain why eating plenty of protein leads to weight loss and improved muscle composition compared to calorie-identical diets with less protein [7]. This is partly why we made Ample higher in protein.
  • Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a particularly thermogenic class of fat [8] that makes up about 15% of coconut oil. Ample has a meaningful amount of coconut oil, partly for this reason.

A balanced mix of quality protein, fat, and carbs led people to burn 5-15% more energy daily, without changing the total calories they ate [9]. That alone will play a big role in keeping you slim over time.

Hormonal Effects

  • Insulin stays stable with Ample because most of the energy comes from fat, which doesn’t affect blood sugar. Ample does have some carbs, but most of them are complex carbs from sweet potato, meaning they take time to break down and won’t spike insulin the way sugar does [10]. Ample also has lots of fiber, which regulates blood glucose and insulin levels [11]. No insulin spike means no energy crash, and less fat storage, provided you don’t overeat.
  • Ghrelin is the hunger hormone you read about in the last section. You release it when you have low blood sugar or your stomach/GI tract is empty, to tell your brain to send hunger signals and get you eating again. Fiber is very good at curbing hunger (even though it has no calories) because it keeps your GI system full for a long time, which suppresses ghrelin and keeps you satisfied for several hours [12,13].
  • Cholecystokinin (CCK) is a hormone that makes you feel full – so much so that hungry monkeys injected with CCK will stop eating mid-meal [14]. Your intestinal cells send CCK up to your brain to tell it when you’re satisfied and have plenty of energy. Protein [15] and fat [16] trigger strong CCK release, which is partly why high-fat and high-protein meals tend to be so satisfying. A high-fiber meal also triggers twice as much CCK release as a low-fiber meal does [17]. Ample is high in protein, fat, and fiber – we designed it to be as satisfying as possible.

The combination of real-food ingredients in Ample should leave you with stable energy and satiation for several hours, despite being only 400 calories (or 600, if you go for the bigger bottle).

Final thoughts

Nutrition is more nuanced than “calories in, calories out.” The quality of what you eat has a major effect on your body and health. If you’re trying to lose weight, simply cutting calories without changing the quality of your food can be a recipe for frustration. White-knuckling through hunger day in and day out is an unpleasant – and more importantly, unsustainable – way to eat.

Instead, shift your nutrition toward higher quality food. There’s a strong chance you’ll find that eating a diet full of quality protein, fibrous veggies, healthy fats, and complex carbs leaves you more satisfied, and you’ll naturally eat fewer calories. That’s not to say you should ignore them entirely. Keep them in mind, and play with the ratios of fat, protein, and carbs until you find a balance that keeps you full and energized without overeating.

And don’t worry if you have to try a few different combinations! Building a strong foundation of health is a lifelong process. We can help:

  • We have a guide to healthy fats, complete with food recommendations and a meal plan.
  • Our simple guide to fasting shows you how to change your meal timing to increase fat loss and performance.
  • We also unpack what makes meals satisfying in more depth and look at studies on sustainable, gradual fat loss.
  • And our thoughts on practical nutrition may help if you feel like you’re stressing too much over food and diet (no judgment – we’ve been there and we totally get it).

Any questions or comments? We look forward to discussing them below. Thanks for reading.

What makes a meal satisfying?

When we were creating Ample, that was one of the most important questions we had to answer. How could we make powder in a bottle really deliver the satiety of a sit-down meal?

Our goal was to design a meal that leaves you comfortably full, with stable energy for several hours. After a good bit of research (and some trial and error), we’ve learned that fullness depends on a few things, including digestion rate, energy balance, and hormone response. We came up with a combination that hits all three:

  • Several grams of fiber (including a couple particular types)
  • Moderate fat (again, the type matters)
  • Abundant protein

These three things contribute to Ample’s effect on satiety, and they’re also valuable for nutrition in general. You can try building meals around one or all of these guidelines and see if it changes the way you feel after you eat. Before you do that, though, let’s unpack each point in more detail.

Fiber: slow down digestion and increase nutrient absorption

Structurally, fiber is a carbohydrate.

But fiber is unique in the carbohydrate world. Starches and sugars (what most of us think of when we say “carbs”) break down and get absorbed by your body as they pass through your small intestine. From there, they become energy.

Fiber is a little different. Humans don’t have the enzymes to digest fiber, so it ends up moving through your system more or less intact. There are two major classes of fiber:

  • Soluble fiber dissolves in water. It forms a gel-like substance in your large intestine, slowing down the rate at which you digest your food and allowing nutrients to absorb more fully [1].
  • Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Like soluble fiber, though, insoluble adds bulk to food as it passes through your large intestine.

Both types of fiber increase the sensation of fullness after a meal.

But how does that sense of fullness happen when you aren’t getting energy from your food?

Good question. When your GI tract is empty, little cells along your intestinal lining create a hormone called ghrelin and send it up to your brain. Ghrelin binds to receptors in your brain and tells you you’re hungry. That’s when your stomach starts rumbling.

The longer your stomach and intestines are empty, the more ghrelin you produce. Fiber is a strong regulator of ghrelin because it keeps your GI system full for a good long time [2,3]. And because you can’t digest fiber, you generally aren’t getting any energy from it. Essentially, you can eat fewer calories and feel just as full, which can make fiber great for gradual fat loss over time [4,5,6].

Fiber has a few other benefits that are worth exploring in another article. But to touch on them briefly:

  • Fiber is anti-inflammatory. A recent study found that eating plenty of fiber linked to 63% lower C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation [7].
  • Some fibers benefit your gut bacteria. You as a human lack the enzymes to digest fiber, but the bacteria living in your gut will happily eat some of the fiber you don’t digest. Gut bacteria will ferment certain fibers (called prebiotic fibers) and use them for energy. The fermentation process produces short-chain fatty acids that keep your gut lining strong [8], and prebiotic fiber keeps the good bacteria in your gut thriving, while warding off more damaging types [9].

 

Ample has four specific types of fiber in it, designed to give you the range of benefits you just read about.

  • Inulin, a component of chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke, is an especially satiating soluble fiber [10]. Inulin doubles as a prebiotic, feeding good bacteria in your gut and keeping your intestinal lining strong [11].
  • Psyllium husk is another soluble fiber that’s particularly good at regulating blood sugar [12,13]. It prevents insulin spikes and crashes, leaving you with stable fullness and energy.
  • Green banana starch isn’t technically a fiber, but it behaves like one. It’s a resistant starch, meaning it resists digestion much like fiber does. Green banana starch is one of the best sources of food for your gut bacteria [14], and your bacteria produce a lot of gut-protecting short-chain fatty acids when they ferment it [15].
  • Acacia fiber (also called gum arabic) is a favorite food of two specific beneficial gut bacteria: Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. They flourish when given acacia fiber [16]. Acacia fiber is also very gentle on digestion. Your gut bacteria ferment it further down your intestine than most other fibers, which prevents a buildup of gas or bloating in people with sensitive stomachs [17]. And acacia fiber is especially good for fullness and fat loss [18].

As a rule of thumb, vegetables are the best source of fiber around. Get plenty of greens in your diet; they’ll fill you up and keep the creatures in your gut happy.

Fat gives you energy without spiking blood sugar

Fat is another key to feeling satiated after a meal. It has a couple traits that make it useful as a source of filling, slow-burning energy.

The first is that fat doesn’t affect insulin. When you break down carbs, they end up as sugar in your bloodstream, and you release insulin to clear out the sugar. Insulin drives the sugar out of your blood and into your cells, which either use it as energy or store it as fat.

If you’re sensitive to insulin, this process isn’t a problem. But with the abundance of carbs (and particularly refined carbs) in today’s typical diet, many people constantly stimulate their insulin, which causes their body to become less sensitive to it over time.

When you’re less sensitive to insulin, you start producing too much of it in response to the food you eat. Too much insulin means you pull too much sugar from your blood. The result is low blood sugar, sudden hunger, and an energy crash.

Let’s sum that up in bullet points:

  • Carbs increase your blood sugar
  • You release insulin to bring your blood sugar level back down to normal
  • Eating lots of carbs (especially refined ones) causes some people start releasing too much insulin
  • Excess insulin causes a crash: low blood sugar, hunger, and fatigue

Again, this doesn’t happen to everyone, but plenty of people find they get hungry or don’t have steady energy when they eat too many carbs.

Fat skirts the issue entirely. It doesn’t stimulate insulin, meaning it keeps your blood sugar stable. For people who struggle with insulin sensitivity, fat leads to more satiety and no crash. For people whose insulin response is fine, fat is still a perfectly good source of energy.

Fat in particular also stimulates release of a hormone called cholecystokinin (mercifully abbreviated to CCK). CCK makes you feel full in a major way – for example, hungry monkeys injected with CCK will stop eating almost immediately [19].

When fat reaches your intestine it makes you release a lot of CCK [20]. As such, meals with plenty of fat tend to be supremely satisfying.

We have three main healthy fats in Ample: coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, and chia seed oil. You can read about their particular benefits in detail here.

Protein: the most filling macronutrient

Protein is famous for being very satisfying. Plentiful studies support the importance of protein in satiety. Here are a few of them:

  • When women ate protein before a main meal they felt more full than they did eating fat or carbs. They also ate less during the meal [21].
  • Like fat, protein is a strong trigger of the fullness hormone CCK [22]. It also drives you to release glucagon, another hormone that makes you feel full. [23]
  • And like fiber, protein curbs the hunger hormone ghrelin. A high-protein breakfast kept people satisfied longer than a high-carb breakfast. It curbed post-meal ghrelin release for several hours and also slowed gastric emptying – food spent more time in the intestines [24].
  • A large review of research on satiety found that protein is the most satisfying macronutrient – more so than fat or carbs – and that it simultaneously increases your metabolism, making it great for burning fat while feeling full [25].

This is why we made sure to formulate Ample original with plenty of protein. Ample original contains protein from grass-fed whey, grass-fed collagen, and peas. Ample V contains protein from peas and rice.

Whichever you choose, you’re getting a meaningful amount of complete protein with each bottle. And outside of Ample, a good rule of thumb is to get at least 20-30g of protein with each meal. It’ll keep you full for a good long time.

Summing up…

Ample is so satisfying because of three things:

  • Lots of fiber
  • Fat for stable energy
  • Plentiful protein

Try combining these principles in your next meal – for example, pair some wild-caught salmon with a big serving of green veggies. See how you feel afterward. Is your energy more stable? Are you comfortably full for several hours? Play around with amounts of fiber, fat, and protein and see what works for you. Thanks for reading and leave your comments and questions below!

The idea of fasting in the modern age may sound unnecessary. If you eat your veggies, avoid sugary beverages, and exercise often, do you really need to track timing in between meals?

No, you don’t need to fast. But fasting does have some pretty cool benefits. 

Evolutionarily speaking, fasting makes sense. Our bodies didn’t develop alongside a Whole Foods market. For tens of thousands of years, humans and animals experienced long stretches between meals before the tribe could catch a massive amount of meat or gather enough roots and berries for a party. More recently, families depended on seasonal harvests to supply food throughout brutal winters. They only had what they could grow, pick, and preserve. Still, we survived. And it turns out that our bodies may have adapted to that kind of rhythmic calorie restriction.

It’s only within the last couple hundred years that our digestive systems have weathered the onslaught of near constant eating. And as a population, Westerners are fatter and more wrought with preventable diseases than ever.  

Fasting is blowing up in the anti-aging scene. Everyone from biology nerds to bodybuilders are using restricted eating windows to boost brain function and get ripped. The trend shows no sign of slowing. A peek into the science-backed benefits of fasting will give you a good idea why.

What is fasting?

The avoidance or restriction of calories go by many different names. From the more clinical “caloric restriction” or “dietary restriction” to the less appealing “starvation diet.”

The clinical definition of fasting also varies from total caloric restriction – basically water fasting – to allowing up to 200 calories per day, to restricting calories by 60-80% [1].

Your approach to fasting depends on your goals. If you’re simply looking to lose some weight and balance your blood sugar, intermittent fasting could be for you.

Or you could get hardcore and go for the total immune system overhaul with a longer fast. In that case, benefits seem to kick in after you run through all energy reserves in the form of stored glucose. This takes most people anywhere from 24-48 hours, depending on activity level, caloric intake, and body mass.

For our purposes, we’ll define “fasting” as not eating for over 24 hours, while intermittent fasting (IF) will mean fasting for fewer than 24 hours – for example, 16 hours of no eating to 8 hours of eating (16:8).

Benefits of fasting

Researchers started calorie-restricting worms and rodents about hundred years ago, with pretty promising results – from longer lifespans to lower glucose and insulin levels. Keep in mind, however, that a lot of this hasn’t been reproduced in humans. Here are just a few benefits of calorie restriction in the form of IF:

Autophagy

Fasting – even shorter-term fasting – triggers profound autophagy in rodents and in human cells [2].

Think of autophagy as spring cleaning for your cells. When you put your body under mild stress, your cells step up to the challenge by getting rid of waste products and old damaged parts. Autophagy translates to “self-eating”; your cells gobble up old, damaged cells and replace them with shiny new versions. Autophagy can help maintain muscle mass and decrease inflammation and aging (again, in rats [3] and in human cells [4]. It keeps your system running efficiently.

Fat loss

Intermittent fasting can also help you lose weight, largely because it puts you into a convenient pattern of fasting and feasting. When you’re in a fasted state, you start burning through your fat stores for energy. When you have food in your system, you’ll burn that for energy, and fat loss will temporarily turn off.

With intermittent fasting, you cycle between the two states. What makes it especially nice, though, is that fasting makes you especially sensitive to how full you are, so you’re unlikely to overeat once you break your fast.

  • Blood sugar stability/insulin sensitivity [5,6]
  • Leptin sensitivity (your body’s “satiety” hormone) [7]

The other nice thing about intermittent fasting is that it can feel less restrictive than many other ways to lose weight. If you can make it through the fast, you get to feast to your heart’s content at the end. It’s a satisfying rhythm (provided you’re eating good foods).

Immunity

Fasting for three days (we’re talking no food for 72 hours) can kickstart your production of infection-fighting white blood cells, regenerating your entire immune system [8]. This same study found that fasting long enough to deplete glycogen stores (usually 24-48 hours) also decreases an enzyme called PKA and IGF-1 hormone, two markers of aging and cancer risk.

Longevity

It’s questionable if a life without eating every day is worth living. Still, fasting in worms and rats extends lifespan by anywhere from 15-50% [9]. It makes sense, though, that with the above benefits in action, you’re much more likely to avoid age-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Mental clarity

You may feel a little lightheaded the first couple times you skip a meal, but if you stick with it, fasting can give you a real mental boost.

When your body runs out of glycogen stores to snack on, it switches to burning fat, aka ketones. This is when the magic happens. Your brain prefers running off of ketones and, in fact, ketones are known as being neuroprotective. So, even though there’s only some preliminary association between fasting and improved synaptic function in fruit flies, it’s likely that this is why so many people report increased mental clarity while fasting [10].

Pro-tip: Limit your carbs and increase your fat intake for 2-3 weeks prior to experimenting with IF. This could make even short periods of fasting a lot easier.

Neuroprotection

Remember autophagy? Fasting seems to put your brain cells in repair mode as well. Caloric restriction helps maintain and repair neuronal pathways in rats. There’s also evidence in rats that IF stimulates the production of new brain cells and increases brain plasticity [11]. This is great news when it comes to battling age-related brain degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or restoring brain function after injury [12]. Again, though, we need more studies in humans.

Muscle building

It may sound counterintuitive, but fasting can actually help you maintain or even build muscle [13,14]. Fasting can increase something called human growth hormone (HGH), which is one of your body’s most important hormones related to building muscle tissue. HGH production is highest during your teenage years and production wanes as your age. Super low levels of HGH in adults mean less lean muscle mass and more body fat. Even your bone density can suffer without it.

Taking exogenous HGH can get tricky – too much of this stuff is no good and can cause the proliferation of things like cancer cells. Best to boost your body’s natural HGH production. Enter: fasting.

Fasting for just 24 hours can double HGH secretion; fasting for 48 hours offers up to a 5-fold increase in HGH [15].

Even if you’re not interested in building muscle, this should assuage your fears about losing muscle mass during short-term fasting.

Downsides to fasting

Fasting isn’t for everyone. Check out this list before you get too excited about skipping meals:

  • On the discomfort spectrum, restricting food falls anywhere from agonizing, to kind of a bummer, to somewhat enjoyable. If fasting makes you miserable, skip it – although it does get easier after you do it a few times.
  • Fasting for more than 24-hours can lead to micronutrient deficiencies. For hardcore fasting experiments, check with your doctor about how to support micronutrient intake.
  • Fasting may raise cortisol and other stress hormones, which raises blood sugar and triggers the release of insulin [16]. In most healthy adults, this doesn’t seem to be a problem and regulates over time. But if you have blood sugar regulation or cortisol issues, fasting may not be for you.

Who shouldn’t fast?

  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Children and adolescents.
  • People with certain medical conditions or taking certain drugs that affect blood sugar levels, insulin response, or hormone regulation. Check with your doc!
  • People with a history of eating disorders or with an already low body mass index might want to avoid dramatically restricting calories, even for the anti-aging benefits.

How to fast

Simply “not eating” may sound ridiculously simple, but you need only google “intermittent fasting” to find the mountains of information on just how and when you shouldn’t eat, and how to refuel after your fast. We cover some basic options here and encourage you to leave any questions in the comments.

Option #1: Skip a meal now and then.

Fasting can be as simple as skipping the occasional meal.

It might feel a little unpleasant or strange at first, but you won’t die if you ditch dinner or replace breakfast with some warm lemon water and a pinch of sea salt. This counts as fasting and, over time, can result in some of the same benefits as a longer fast, such as fat loss and a decrease in inflammation and insulin resistance. It’s also a good way to get familiar with how fasting feels and ease yourself into more intense fasting.

Option #2: Intermittent fasting.

IF could mean anything from a 13-16 hour fasting window to a 24-hour fast every 1-3 days (usually referred to as alternate day fasting (ADF)).

You could, for example, only eat between noon and 8PM – that’s 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating (16:8). Or, if you’re a little more hardcore, you could only eat between 5PM and 9PM – a 20-hour fast with a 4-hour eating window (20:4).

There are a number of variations on IF, so you can play around with different iterations and stick with what works for you. IF (as opposed to longer fasts) is super popular because it’s been pretty well studied in humans and you get to eat more often. The promise of eating every day also increases compliance, so you’re more likely to stick with the program.

For more on intermittent fasting, we recommend checking out the following excellent resources:

Option #3: Meal timing (time-restricted eating)

There’s some evidence that your metabolism changes throughout the day, suggesting you can time your IF for maximum effectiveness. Many IFers fast for the first half of the day. It’s simply easier to prolong your fast after sleeping, rather than putting the kibosh on eating at 5-6pm – especially if you’re a night owl.

But humans are diurnal creatures, meaning our metabolic genes fire more during the day and slow down toward dark. So, it makes sense that eating the majority of your calories during the first half of your day can lower post-meal glucose levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and help you lose weight. Try both and see which one feels better for you [17,18].

Find the fasting option that’s right for you

Like all things nutrition-related, we don’t know nearly enough about any of this to say definitively what you should do. In fact, the more we learn about the human body, the clearer it is that nutritional needs are rooted in each individual’s health history and goals.

If one or a couple of these fasting techniques sound good to you and your doctor says it’s cool, we recommend testing a couple of fasting windows to see what feels good.

Some markers to track over the span of 1-3 weeks:

  • Weight
  • Body mass index
  • Mental clarity
  • Energy level
  • Mood

Have you tried fasting? Are you currently doing it? Have you noticed the benefits? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments. Thanks for reading.

You may already be familiar with the ketogenic diet. Keto has been making a big splash in the nutrition world, and we get asked all the time what we think about it.

People are talking about keto for good reason. It can be awesome. But with excitement can also come a lot of misinformation. We’ll help you navigate the ins and outs of a ketogenic diet over the next couple articles. Let’s start with the basic structure of keto, as well as its possible benefits and drawbacks.

What is a keto diet?

In a nutshell, keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet that’s designed to make you burn fat as your main source of energy. Most of the time, your body burns carbohydrates for energy. But if you cut off your body’s supply of carbs, your body begins seeking out fat instead. Eating keto shifts you into a state of ketosis, which is when you stop using carbs (for the most part) and start using fat as your biggest source of fuel.

No surprise, then, that a keto diet cuts out nearly all carbs. Here’s a graph of a typical macronutrient ratio you’d eat on keto, by percentage of calories:

The numbers here are a little flexible: anywhere within 65-80% fat, 5-10% carbs, and 15-30% protein. Some people do better with slightly higher carbs on keto. Others may want more protein. You can try playing with the numbers and seeing what makes you feel best. What’s consistent, though, is that you’re getting your lion’s share of calories from fat. When you’re in ketosis, fat provides abundant and convenient fuel for your body.

Why burn fat for energy?

There are a few possible benefits to going keto. But before we talk about them, a quick disclaimer: the ketogenic diet was created about 100 years ago to treat epilepsy, and while it’s great for that, research on keto for things like inflammation, cognitive benefits, cancer, diabetes, and so on is still in its infancy. A lot of the research on keto has only been going on for the last few years, so take what you read here with a grain of salt.

That said, there’s evidence that keto may be good for a few different things:

Weight loss

Keto seems to work as well as other types of diets for weight loss. It may even be slightly more effective than low-fat dieting for some people [1,2].

To be clear, just because you’re using fat as your main energy source doesn’t mean you’re constantly burning through your stored body fat. You’ll use the fat you eat for energy first, and body fat after that. You won’t be burning stored body fat all the time in keto – that’s a common misconception.

But the cool thing about keto is that you may be able to burn body fat without feeling hungry all the time. A recent well-controlled study found that keto dieters burned about 300 more calories per day than their higher-carb counterparts, without changing anything other than the macronutrients they ate [3]. Researchers haven’t figured out exactly why people burn more calories on keto, but a growing number of rodent studies [4,5,6] suggest it’s thanks to increased thermogenesis – in other words, on keto you may produce more body heat at rest.

Then there’s the psychological value in being able to eat steak and butter all the time. Fat is delicious and keto allows for plenty of it. That can be a refreshing change if you find you struggle with avoiding fat. On the other hand, some people find it exhausting to cut carbs so severely.

Your body’s metabolism is influenced by a number of factors, so ultimately, all this comes down to what works for you. If you’re looking to lose weight, keto may be worth a try.

Hunger suppression

The other nice thing about keto is that it curbs appetite. Your body likes to maintain homeostasis, which means it tends to protest when you make major changes to it. That includes losing weight – in general, the more weight you lose, the more your body releases ghrelin, a hormone that contributes to hunger, to try to get you to put that weight back on. Keto suppresses ghrelin, which can translate to a less pressing sensation of hunger, and more successful long-term dieting [7,8]. That hunger suppression is also convenient if you’re going a long time without eating. On keto, it can feel easier to skip meals when, for example, you’re traveling.

Mental clarity

Again, research on keto and mental performance is pretty new, and there aren’t yet any quality studies using healthy adults. However, keto does dramatically change the way your brain gets its energy. Keto is a well-established way to prevent epileptic seizures — doctors have been using it with epileptic patients since the 1920s — and more recent research suggests that it could help people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, both of which mess with the brain’s ability to use glucose [9,10].

Anecdotally, many people on keto report more stable energy and mental clarity (a reduction in “brain fog”). We suspect, based on rat studies, that the improved mental function is thanks to a couple different things:

  • Keto makes mitochondria (the power plants of your cells) more efficient and more active in rats [11], which could translate to more available fuel for brain cells.
  • Keto also increases antioxidant activity in the brains of rats [12]. Antioxidants keep inflammation and cellular damage low.
  • Keto caused brand new mitochondria to grow in rats as well [13,14], further deepening energy stores.

These studies are all in rats. It’s not yet clear whether or not they apply to humans, but enough people report more energy and mental clarity from keto that we figured they’re worth mentioning. Your mileage may vary; you’ll just have to try keto for yourself and see if you notice any benefits.

Stable energy and blood sugar regulation

Carbs – particularly refined carbs – increase your blood sugar and trigger insulin release. Some people do fine with carbs. Others feel a yo-yo effect: a spike in energy after a higher-carb meal, followed by hunger and fatigue a couple hours later. Your blood sugar goes up, and then it goes down, as shown by this handy graph, adapted from this study:

 

You can see that the more sugar there is in a meal, the greater the spike and crash. The less sugar, the more stable the blood glucose stays.

So if you feel sleepy or you crash after a higher-carb meal, the first step would be to cut out sugar. But some people are particularly sensitive to carbs and feel that spike and crash even with complex carbs.

If you’re one of them, keto may help. It’s an elegant way to skirt the entire blood sugar issue. With no carbs to burn, blood sugar tends to decrease, and then remain stable. Cutting carbs to ketogenic levels may be particularly valuable for people with diabetes [15], although you should definitely talk to your doctor about that before making any changes. We are not doctors, nor do we play them on TV.

Increased endurance

Keto can also be good for endurance training. Ultra-endurance runners performed as well on keto as their fellow runners did on a high-carb diet, without running out of energy and falling apart from exhaustion (colloquially called “bonking”) [16].

Most of us are not ultra-marathoners, so that study may not apply. Fortunately, normal cyclists see the same results from a keto diet [17]. On a practical level, the benefit here is that you wouldn’t need to carbo-load before an endurance event.

Some scientists have proposed a theory (based on rat studies and conjecture so far) that you actually become more efficient at using oxygen when you’re in keto, and that it may offer advantages over carbs for endurance training. The theorized mechanism is beyond the scope of this article, but if you’re curious and want to get into some deep biochemistry, Dr. Peter Attia breaks it down step-by-step here.

Lowering inflammation

Keto may help decrease inflammation, too. Again, a lot of people report improvements in inflammatory issues like arthritis after they go keto, but there aren’t too many good human studies backing it up yet. There are plenty of rodent and human cell studies, though.

  • Keto decreases free radical damage and central nervous system inflammation in rats [18,19]
  • Two small studies of humans with fatty liver disease found eating keto significantly decreased liver inflammation [20,21]
  • Mice fed a ketogenic diet had higher pain tolerance and decreased inflammation after their paws were injected with a toxin [22]
  • Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), one of the things you turn fat into while on keto, is anti-inflammatory in both rats and human cell cultures [23]

Who may keto NOT be good for?

Keto may not be for everyone.

  • Non-endurance athletes can struggle with keto. While keto seems to be good for aerobic (oxygen-based) exercise, it can fall short for brief, intense exercise, probably because brief, intense exercise taps your glycogen (sugar) stores for fuel, and on keto you store significantly less sugar in your cells. A lot of people report bonking when they try things like powerlifting or CrossFit while on traditional keto. There are ways to tweak keto to accommodate heavy lifting or HIIT workouts, but it takes a little more personal experimenting. We’ll get into those solutions in another post.
  • Pregnant women should probably avoid keto, too. Glucose is the main energy source that fuels fetal development [24]. Eat your high-quality carbs if you’re pregnant.
  • Children may want to avoid keto, too. It may be fine for them, but it isn’t well-studied, and youngsters have very different nutritional needs than adults do. Probably better not to take a chance on keto with your kids.
  • People with hormone imbalances should talk to a doctor before going keto. Typically, keto causes increased cortisol (the stress hormone) during your first week or two on it, because your body isn’t used to burning fat and is demanding more carbs. The cortisol spike can screw with your sleep and stress your body while you adapt. Most people are good after that first couple weeks, but if you’re already dealing with, say, adrenal fatigue or chronic stress in your life, adding another stressor may not be a good idea. Keto may also affect thyroid function, so talk to your doctor before going keto if you have an imbalance in your thyroid hormones.
  • Kidney disease may not pair well with ketosis. Kidneys indirectly regulate fat metabolism, so if your kidneys aren’t running at their best, you may struggle to break down lots of fat [25]. Keto also increases uric acid in the blood for the first few weeks you’re on keto. Uric acid can contribute to kidney stones, especially if you’re already prone to them. If you have kidney issues, you should probably talk to your doctor before trying keto.
  • Gallbladder removal can make it tough for the enzymes in your small intestine to digest fat. If you’ve had your gallbladder taken out, you may want to avoid keto.

Outside of a few specific cases, though, many people find keto is an excellent way to eat. Let’s recap keto’s potential benefits:

  • Weight loss
  • Hunger suppression
  • Mental clarity
  • Stable energy and blood sugar
  • Increased endurance
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Delicious food

Keto may work wonders for you, or it may not. The only way to know is to give it a shot.

Planning on trying keto? Stay tuned. Our next article will get into the biochemistry of ketosis, and the one after that will give you a practical guide to eating keto, day-by-day. In the meantime, leave any questions or comments below. Thanks for reading!